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  Russia: ongoing disputes over history (II)

Viktor Denisenko
2014 12 22

What historical events (including their interpretations) Moscow is most worried about, and what is a common vector of „fight against falsification“?

During the meeting with the young historians, Vladimir Putin talked about the place of history in the national ideology. He characterised the task of the relationship between history and historians as a necessity to convince „the majority of our people“ that „our views are correct, objective and honest“. Without any doubt, these words were inspired by this year‘s events: after Russia annexed Crimea, the West turned its back on Russia which said that its actions toward Ukraine were „correct, objective and honest“.

In May 2009 a special commission was established in Russia to counter attempts to falsify history detrimental to the interests of Russia. The name of the commission revealed a paradox: the aim of the commission was not to jointly counter „the attempts to falsify history“, but to deal only with the ones detrimental to Russia‘s interests, i.e. with „falsification of history“ „detrimental to the international prestige of Russian Federation“.

After 3 years of work, in February 2012 the commission was disbanded. It is assumed that this was due to the lack of capacity.

Another Russia‘s ideological project related to the national history is the so called „uniform history textbook“. The kernel of this idea is to consolidate a single indisputable historical truth complying with the guidelines of the current ideology, and, most importantly, to drum  these guidelines into the heads of a new generation. It is no coincidence that soon after Crimea‘s occupation it was decided to give more attention to this territory in the new „uniform history textbook.“ Today the talks are heard not only about a „uniform textbook“ but also about a „uniform concept of history“, but this doesn‘t alter the essence.

Why this idea is criticized when education is the area regulated by the state? Children must use the same textbooks across Russia. But the problem is that in case of Russia it is necessary to speak not about the attempts to unify the education process, but about an ideologically motivated action. When analysing the concept of a „uniform textbook“, journalist I.Karacuba highlighted that here the focus is given not to history but to propaganda. The main task of a uniform concept of history would be to justify all the „unpleasant“ periods of the soviet history which serves as the basis of the current Kremlin‘s ideology. For instance, in the concept of a „uniform textbook“ it is suggested to justify Stalin‘s repressions by claiming that they were necessary in the fight against the „fifth column“ etc.“

It is easy to discern the nature of „falsifications“ the Russian authorities are most afraid of.  Moscow‘s goal is to „protect“ the most disputable issues of soviet history in order not to shake the foundations of the current ideology (which is in principle imperial).

In the current Russia‘s ideology a special attention is given to the Day of Victory, whereas the so called Great Patriotic war is treated as a symbol of power of USSR-Russia. However, this historical period is related to the name of Stalin; but bloody repressions are also related to this name, including deportations of the entire nations and other similar crimes. In order to retain purity of the symbol of the great patriotic war, efforts are taken to write off Stalin‘s sins and shift the blame on the environment or treat repressions as a historic necessity.

In the current Russia Stalin is rehabilitated not only because of his relation to the war period. The current Russian historiography presents Stalin as a smart and wise politician who made the world take Russia seriously, and, most importantly, live in fear of Russia. In other words, Stalin himself has become a symbol of the great state, a symbol of the Soviet Union which „was lost“.

The majority of Russian population relate Soviet nostalgia not to the communist ideology or other soviet attributes, but to the state power. The words of Dmitry Kiselyov that „Russia is the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S. into radioactive ash“ also appeal to this nostalgia.

The efforts are made to „ease“ the history of USSR of negative connotations. Before the beginning of the great patriotic war the world witnessed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, demonstrating the collusion between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany (Soviet Union helped the Nazi Germany occupy Poland), Moscow‘s aggression against Finland, and annexation of the Baltic States. This is hardly compatible with Russia‘s image as „a peaceful liberator of Europe“. Moscow has to conceal or explain the aggressive USSR actions (e.g. that collusion with the Nazi Germany was necessary to win time, and that Baltic States joined USSR voluntarily).

Respectively, the resistance movement during/after the war in the Baltic States and Ukraine is evaluated as a struggle of the „fascist henchmen“ against the winners of the war, or as a „rampage of bandits“. This approach has been partially transferred to the current ideology; it comes into play via propaganda measures, i.e. by accusing the current Lithuania. Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine of fascism.

The disputes on history will hardly cease in the near future. Historical „reality“ constructed by Moscow becomes the basis of the current Russia‘s ideological reality. To acknowledge that USSR played an ambiguous role during the World War II, that this state demonstrated to the world totalitarism and mass repressions would mean that a new Russia‘s ideology is based on the lies, oppression and blood. In this case a carefully constructed and shiny soviet myth will simply vanish.   

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